Bloomberg News

Gillard Sees Questions About Offshore Asylum Processing

September 01, 2011

(Adds comment from Gillard in third paragraph.)

Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said a High Court decision yesterday overturning a refugee agreement with Malaysia has raised questions about the processing of asylum seekers offshore.

Gillard, speaking to reporters today in Brisbane, called the court’s decision “disappointing,” saying it had changed the nation’s laws for dealing with asylum seekers.

“The High Court decision basically turns on its head the understanding of the law,” Gillard said. “It’s far from clear whether the court’s ruling would, practically speaking, permit the operation of offshore processing.”

Dealing with asylum seekers is a political issue in Australia and helped Liberal-National coalition Prime Minister John Howard win a third term in office in 2001. Gillard, rebuked by opposition leader Tony Abbott for failing to stem the flow of boat people into the country and facing declining public support, sought to quell the criticism with the Malaysia agreement she said would “smash the business model of people smugglers.”

The nation of 22.5 million has a quota of accepting 13,750 people under its humanitarian program this year, including 6,000 refugees.

Under the Malaysia agreement, signed July 25, Australia would have sent 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and accepted 4,000 people from that country who were verified as legitimate refugees by the United Nations. Australia currently processes asylum seekers at Christmas Island, between Indonesia and Australia’s west coast.

The nation’s top court yesterday said the plan didn’t meet the necessary criteria for dealing with refugees, including providing adequate protection for asylum seekers under international or domestic law.

The government will seek legal advice before announcing a policy alternative, Gillard said today.

--Editors: John Brinsley, Ben Richardson

To contact the reporter on this story: Gemma Daley in Canberra at gdaley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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